Book review: Infinite Ground

Infinite Ground.Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

So what’d happen if you were in a restaurant, right? And then you got up from the table, went to the bathroom and then never came back.

Would you be missed? Would people know where to look? More importantly, would people know how to look?

This is, in a fashion, the thrust of Martin MacInnes’ first novel, Infinite Ground. It’s a detective story – more or less – but that’s a bit like saying that Gravity’s Rainbow is a war story. There’s a bit more to it.

The missing continue to be involved in essential processes such as breathing and eating, living simply on a different scale.

The story revolves around a missing man, named Carlos. He vanishes during a meal at a chi-chi restaurant, leaving a Carlos-sized hole in the South American summer. A semi-retired detective, battling both the heat and grief, takes a stab at unravelling what’s become of the disappeared diner.

That’s where it gets weird.

The deeper the detective digs, the more strangeness he discovers. Companies stacked within companies, like nameless Russian dolls. Disaster preparedness in the shape of unoccupied offices, deep within the jungle. Actors hired to represent other individuals. Memory-smeared recitations of what might have once been accurate accounts of an evening. Tales of self-destruction and the examination of minute traces – skin oils, errant hairs and stale office air, filled with exhalations – fill the background story. Maybe. But does it add up?

There’s an element of Kurtz and the upriver in this tale, with another journey to the figurative and literal interior taken as it progresses. There’s cargo cult correspondences, reconstructions of place and meditations on meaning. There’s a load of thoughts on what might have happened to the missing man – if it happened at all – and MacInnes, if he knows, keeps his apocalyptic cards close to his chest.

I mean, what do you reckon happened?

I am, with this novel, put very much in mind of Eric McCormack’s work, particularly The Paradise Motel. It’s difficult to say why they’re similar – though a certain tropical mystery is a feature of both that work and Infinite Ground – other than to hint that their approach is quite similar. There’s something… off about them both, something vaguely unholy working behind the scenes of peculiar normalcy. There’s some of that Nic-Pizzolatto-meets-Thomas-Ligotti drained-colour nihilism at play, coupled with the verdant overpowerings of Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. Both McCormack and MacInnes (the two macks, if you will) have that same detachment from life, even in the thrusting midst of it. It’s uncanny.

(It suffices to say that if you like one of these texts, you’ll like the other.)

I was pleasingly confused with this novel. It’s part fake textbook, part kitchen-sink crime, and part metaphysical enquiry. It’s intriguing and puzzling and something I am certain I will revisit, because frankly, there’s not enough of this scale of weirdness about.

(My Goodreads profile is here.)

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